The importance of the intake process in workplace disputes

Pauline Roach.pngThis post was written by Pauline Roach and is part of our series of summaries of works in progress presented at the 6th ADRRN Roundtable held in Dunedin in December 2017. Pauline was involved closely in the development and implementation of the system at the Roads and Maritime Services of New South Wales described here.



This post provides an overview of the dispute resolution program developed and introduced at the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), formerly the Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW. In 2003, a review of the organisations’ grievance policy was undertaken.  Following this review the organisation sought to develop a corporate culture where the principles of alternate dispute resolution (ADR) could succeed and were accepted by staff.  The aim was to assist in the early identification, management and resolution of workplace disputes.

The current literature supports the view that workplace dispute resolution is more effective when it is supported by the whole organisation rather than used in a one off context.  (Sourdin T. 2016; Astor H, Chinkin C 2002; McKenzie D 2015; Saundry R, Latreille p, Dickens l, Teague P, Urwin P & Wibberley G 2014). The RMS system was a good example of a whole of organisational dispute management strategy.

At RMS, a tailored dispute resolution strategy was developed for each dispute. The most appropriate dispute resolution intervention was applied after a preliminary assessment. Mediation was one of a package of ADR tools, policies and procedures which were integrated into a range of human resource policies. The available dispute management strategies included: the disputants, manager and/or workgroup participating in conflict coaching (pre and post mediation), dispute counselling, mediation, referral to human resources for advice, or referral for legal advice.

Prior to any dispute resolution intervention a detailed intake interview was conducted. The intake interview was conducted seven to ten days prior to the dispute resolution process to which the matter would be referred.  Intake was a critical component of the dispute resolution strategy. The intake interview was divided into two significant sections: one to gather information from the organisations’ perspective and the other to prepare the disputant to fully participate in the dispute resolution process.


From the organisations’ perspective it was important to establish the following:

  • is dispute resolution appropriate?
  • are the issues a breach of policy or current legislation?
  • should the matter be referred to human resources for investigation and / or disciplinary action?
  • What previous action has the organisation taken to resolve the issue?

The intake process involved interviewing the disputants, the manager and possibly the union representative to obtain a history of the dispute.  This also provided an opportunity to begin considering the most appropriate dispute resolution practitioner for the matter.


From the disputants’ perspective the intake process:

  • obtain a history of the dispute;
  • identify the people involved;
  • build a rapport with the disputants and reassure them that the ADR practioners do not take sides;
  • introduce the concepts of dispute resolution and ensure they understand the dispute resolution process;
  • assist the disputants to focus on outcomes;
  • reality check outcomes or do the disputants just want to punish the other person;
  • identify factors that may prevent resolution – power imbalance between the parties, is there a threat of violence?
  • Gain agreement on date, time and location for the session.

The intake process intended to increase the likelihood of the ADR intervention succeeding.  It aimed to ensure that the disputants understood the process, had the information they needed and that the right people were sitting around the table. It required an organisational commitment to allow participants the time to engage in a thorough intake process.

Over a nine year period RMS developed and implemented a holistic dispute resolution process, with a rigorous intake process. Mediation was part of a system of dispute resolution tools that were integrated into a wide range of the organisation’s policies. Resolution of workplace disputes requires a strategic and explicit cultural change rather than a piece meal approach. The intake process is a critical tool in achieving this.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Dr Olivia Rundle. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dr Olivia Rundle

Dr Rundle is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania. She has worked as a nationally accredited mediator and a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner. Dr Rundle is especially interested in the role of lawyers in dispute resolution processes and the policy environment that positively encourages lawyers to engage with dispute resolution. She teaches and researches in broad areas of Dispute Resolution, Civil Procedure and Family Law.

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